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Henry Henderson Headshot

Apologies to Rube Goldberg

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This past week I read an item by reporter Joel Hood in the Chicago Tribune that has haunted me for days:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is investigating whether the electrical field generated by the underwater barriers designed to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes has extended into adjacent land near the barrier site in Romeoville….Initial findings indicate that the electrical field has "gone beyond the parameters of the site", the Army Corps said late Monday. But officials gave no further information about the dangers the electrical field could pose to the surrounding area.

Golly.  We knew that there was concern that the electric fence could cause explosions in ship traffic and possibly electrocute boaters, swimmers and fisherman…but it is news that it might be threatening surrounding communities on Terra firma!

The manifest failure of the “electric fence” installed in the Chicago Waterway System by the US Army Corps of Engineers (at great public expense) to deter invasive Asian Carp from making their way to the Great Lakes, is well known and unambiguous.  That the Corps clings to the threadbare claim that the fence has not failed -- despite the appearance of Asian Carp DNA in the waterways beyond the fence and in the Great Lakes themselves -- is a morbidly fascinating example of bureaucratic self delusion. 

And now we read that the Corps is concerned that the fence is now potentially threatening the public health and safety by sending dangerous levels of electricity into the surrounding landscape. It is appalling that the Corp and other responsible authorities have not candidly admitted that past practices have led to the current state of public endangerment from the march of invasive species they have failed to contain and from electrocution.

But this is not what haunts me.

What haunts me is that I have previously characterized the “electric fence” as a “quirky Rube Goldberg contraption.” 

The fact is that the great Rube Goldberg designed highly complicated contraptions that performed very simple tasks.  To repeat: Goldberg’s designs actually did what they were designed to do.

So, while I am haunted by having compared Goldberg's clever work to a spectacularly failed contraption, the threat to public safety and ecosystem disaster presented by the Electric Fence is positively horrifying. It is with profound apologies to Rube Goldberg that I compared the counter productive, utterly incompetent and dangerous Fish Fence Contraption to his workable designs.

It is getting to the point with this Asian Carp saga that satire and ridicule are unmanned by reality...

With further apologies, this time to St. Paul, the amazing inanity of the Carp Crisis makes me ask: “Oh satire, where is thy sting? Oh Ridicule, Where is thy victory?”